“Dreams of Summer”
My husband and G and I have had two brief summer getaways this year, and we really really enjoyed them. We put our autism backpacks down!
The first was a short trip to Boston while A was away at camp. This was the first year we didn’t have to cook for his whole week and pack it all up in a cooler, because he eats everything now, which is a huge triumph of the tummy and spirit. It felt so weirdly simple, merely throwing some clothing, bedding and sunscreen into a bag and driving off into the boonies. When we said goodbye to him, there was an appalling sense of mutual relief. Poor A. He knew he had been draining our reserves with his obsessions, and his dread of leisure time, and he needed some new people to hang with.
I feel like a spineless but content blob telling you what an amazing week we had. The first couple of days were dedicated to hours of sleep. We hadn’t had a lazy morning in months, so naturally, I started awake at 6 am as always, and then grunted with joy that nothing was required of me except to curl back up and take that choo choo train back to the land of slumber.
And the silence! No “Yun hi Chala!”* I did, of course belt out the song enroute to Boston, and G told me to be quiet. When we passed an outdoor lot with RVs for sale, we all three burst out laughing because NATURALLY the song and its theme would follow us on our travels!
We visited people, roamed around, did the nostalgic trip to my husband’s alma mater, and then returned home to sleep some more. And when we picked A up that weekend, he didn’t seem too pleased to leave camp and get back with us either.
I can sympathize. The slower rhythms of summer are strange. We don’t behave. We make noise. We keep moving around unpredictably. We have rules that don’t make sense to a constantly stimming fellow. We keep going outside. And we use the house in ways that offend. I wish I was kidding, but the house usage issue is an ongoing war and A is going to win from sheer grit and youthful energy and autism shrieks, and the rest of us are eventually going to end up living in a shed. Do drop in and see us in our shed of splendor. We will seat you on a sari-covered futon and ply you with home brewed kombucha.
Anyway, we just got back from our second getaway, which was an overnight beach trip. I’m not even going to pretend that I can describe how perfect it was. The moment my feet sank into the sand and saltwater, every single exhausting, scratchy, soul sucking thought drained away, and I felt such an immense peace. I sent up a silent prayer of thanks for this opportunity to recharge, and then dedicated the time to watching G be her mermaid self, occasionally calling her back from going too far out, but mostly just loving how carefree we could be. She came back to the shallow water and while she lolled in the wet sand, we talked about all the foods she was going to indulge in, and then acted out in interpretive dance all the terrible consequences for eating each thing–Diabetes! we shouted into the noisy sea. Obesity! Acne! And because it deserved a twirl, I twirled while she yelled Constipation! It was so ridiculous and early teen and hilarious. Let’s just go ahead and explore the worst case scenarios while we are staring at the beautiful, changeful Atlantic Ocean. It gets exhausting to be so good all the time. Siblings of autism know how that feels every moment of every single day. We tossed all our cares into the ocean, shouted out our fears, and walked back in silence. I like to believe that Mother Nature understood. She is, after all, the mother of mothers, and has held in her womb the deepest reflections and secrets of her daughters through every era of history.
I thought about A the whole time. He sounded, by all accounts, happy to have some quiet moments, and was enjoying himself thoroughly with the babysitter. He clearly needed to put his Family Management backpack down too.
I have been mulling over this next stage of parenting him–how to grow together as he becomes all masculine and strong willed and privacy seeking. He got upset with me a few days ago, and he marched up to his bedroom and slammed the door, and I had a rueful laugh because it was such a growing up thing to do, so different from his previous little-boy persona that we had been so accustomed to.
We got home this afternoon from the beach, and A was pretty thrilled to see us. He immediately put us to work, and returned to scolding his dad for sneezing, went along in the car to drop the babysitter at her Manhattan-bound bus, and he had me feed him his dhal and rice, little tyrant, but he was beaming the whole time. And when he sat on my lap and flexed his broadening shoulders at me to indicate that he wanted to play, I forgot about everything except his naughty face and how it imprinted itself on every Jersey shore wave I zoned out on.
And so it goes. The seductive pull of the sea of dreams, where an autism mom can pretend for a while that she is free of the endless vigil that will always be her destiny. The equally powerful pull of love towards the boy who will not be a boy forever. He is developing his own desire to be free, and we are finding ways to honor that. For now, though, it’s almost time to put the golden, sweaty days of summer away, and to usher in the new school year. Holidays are not easy for autism families, but I’m kind of heartbroken that A is going to stomp into another academic year and get all mature and independent. It’s natural and good, and I loathe it. We ebb and flow, just like the moody Atlantic.
*Please refer to my previous essay “Playing the Autism Anthem” for groan-inducing clarity.